Peter Couchman is the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

The Plunkett Foundation is the organisation which promotes and supports co-operative and social enterprises in rural communities both in the UK and internationally. It provides support, networks and knowledge which offers practical solutions for rural communities that helps to create thriving places where people live and work now and in the future.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Margaret's message

The Plunkett Foundation has, rightly, been celebrating the legacy that Sir Horace Plunkett left us in terms of his thinking on co-operatives and rural development. His 'Three Betters", Better Farming, Better Business, Better Living, still form the basis of our thinking. This means that a community is entitled to access the best possible technical solution to the problem they wish to solve, that the best model for them to come together to tackle that problem is a co-operative one and that they must remain connected to the community that they are seeking to serve.

Our next stage in exploring our rich heritage is to recognise the role of Margaret Digby, our greatest ever employee. Margaret's involvement with Plunkett spanned nearly 50 years, the bulk of that at its head. Yet, like Sir Horace, I think that you can distill her message into three components. Time and time again, she would have to look at what a country needed to make its co-operatives a success. One of her earlier works on co-operatives in Newfoundland distills this nicely. For co-operatives to thrive, they need:
1) Co-operative legislation - legislation which eases the creation, operation and protection of co-operative forms of enterprise.
2) Co-operative education - those involved in the co-operative need to be educated in how it works and how to combine running a successful business with the principles of the co-operative.
3) Co-operative support - they need access to the best possible support at their start up and as the evolve.

It may be over 70 years since Margaret laid these ideas down, but I wager that if you mapped successful co-operative sectors against access to those three element, you'd find it as true today as it was then.

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